Light is mobilised as a symbol with positive value so ubiquitously that it can seem almost universally and timelessly ‘Good.’ Yet the purposes to which light’s widespread association with truth, justice and order is put reveal widespread abuse. This thesis investigates the extent to which the symbol of light in western traditions can be seen to stand for ecologically harmful ways of life and beliefs. Behind this history is the idea that light might enjoy a true home elsewhere, other than earth, and that therefore human loyalty to light’s positive qualities does not necessitate appropriate fidelity to our home here. Yet a powerful paradox operates at the heart of this ‘looking away,’ such that the contemporary western (and westernised) individual is enculturated into a habit of desacralised consumption. We assert transcendence over the earth even while we eat our way through it, that is to say, benefiting from corporeality while damaging the conditions upon which our lives depend. Paradoxically, while the globalising hegemony of materialistic consumption grounds us here on earth, it does so with a transcendental aim in mind, and this desire to master the earth reveals our inability to feel truly at home here. Thus light is construed, according to its contemporary deployment, to symbolise a yearned-for state of transcendence best recognised as an eternal feasting in the halls of immortality. This mythic quest is deeply ensconced within the psyche of not only the west but in many varieties of settlement civilisation. My investigation thus seeks to uncover moments of continued influence, in the institutionalisation and maintenance of this luminescent effulgence, across the ten millennia-long history of a shared mythic infrastructure. It concludes that light’s symbolic value can be seen as having a damaging influence, in terms of human relations with the earth, to the extent that it holds out a hope of transcendence in an ‘eternal elsewhere’ independent of material conditions here. It is my argument that capitalism and its commodity fetish maintain this vain hope. The ‘eternal elsewhere’ is theorised to arise, in a particular form, with the growth in the relatively new way of organising human society, that of settlement civilisation. This way of life entails the rise of centralised political and military power, often on behalf of a solar god of universal might, an idea today extended into a global hegemony of capital and a materialised light of consumption. This thesis highlights many of the ways in which this anthropocentrism is manifest as a way of life. In the final analysis, however, the capacity for transformation encoded in western mythopoeia offers hope and this can be represented with new construals of the symbol of light.
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